Meet Cranes Records, the French Label Giving Tijuana Indie Bands a Signal Boost

For Ragnar Tournarie and Denis Rouillard, going from collecting to releasing records was almost fortuitous. In 2010, they founded Cranes Records as an extension of their work as visual artists and to help friends’ bands issue proper releases. “It quickly turned into a hybrid of a label and an art project, always [falling] between cinema and art history, or anything else linked to music,” the duo told Remezcla. Being that they are based in France, it may seem odd that Tijuana’s Dani Shivers and Mint Field have made it onto their roster. But their global operating philosophy has led them to reach out to scenes outside of their home country.

The interest in Tijuana came about after Ragnar met director Ricardo Silva following a showing of his film Navajazo at the art school he was attending at the time. After chatting about music and film, Silva turned Tournarie onto Dani Shivers, which motivated him to travel Tijuana to continue his studies and experience the music scene first hand. During his stay, Ragnar built relationships with labels, bands, promoters, and filmmakers. Not only has Cranes collaborated with Dani Shivers by releasing her music on beautifully packaged vinyl records, but they’ve also commissioned Spécola – the production company that Silva is part of – to direct videos for two of the artists on their roster. Currently they are working on releasing Mint Field’s “Ciudad Satélite” on flexi disc.

Has this connection created new opportunities for TJ artists? The head honchos at Cranes certainly felt that their music and art could do well reaching a wider audience, but these musicians have a strong work ethic and a growing career. If you look closer at how Cranes was conceived, you understand how its collaborations are mutually beneficial and rewarding for everyone involved.

“It quickly turned into a hybrid of a label and an art project.”

Before the label started to release regular albums, they took on the task of putting together bootleg demos for friends’ bands, like The Dead Mantra. Given that most labels opt to print CDs or stick to digital formats, it says a lot about the importance they place on experiencing music on vinyl. Both Tournarie and Rouillard are avid record collectors and music nerds that go to great lengths to obtain rare LPs and audiophile-grade equipment. To be able to afford such a hobby requires commitment and creativity. These qualities have proven useful when running an independent label that focuses mainly on vinyl releases, and initial releases helped the The Dead Mantra have a presentable catalog and gave Cranes low-risk capital to launch as a label. Cranes would later enlist Spécola to direct the stunningly shot video for TDM’s song “Mxeico.”

While the music industry has lured many music lovers into starting labels, the sad truth is that the business of album sales often puts a strain on financial success. After preparing the first TDM releases, Ragnar and Denis realized that they could only act as a label for other artists if the albums doubled as art pieces. At this time they studied fine arts at Le Mans, France, a city close to Paris that is known for car races and its “sad population,” as they put it.

Cranes forces us to appreciate not only the music contained in the records, but the art that it inspires.

Being exposed to art history, theory, and production inevitably affected how Cranes was conceived. Now it’s as much a label as an art project that produces film, visual art, music, and installations. For Ragnar and Denis, it’s “a pretext for practicing anything we like, especially concepts of identity and aesthetics.” This tongue-in-cheek statement should not be taken lightly, as their meticulously detailed album covers are works of art in and of themselves. Previous releases have included packaging that folds like origami, hand-sewn covers, and lace patterned paper sleeves made with a paper hole punch. The amount of dedication and care they put into each release has a lot to do with how strongly they feel about each artist they decide to collaborate with.

Hand-sewn cover of Seventeen At This Time’s “Everything I Touch Goes Wrong (Shotgun Wedding Edition)”
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Ragnar and Denis have a strong inclination towards darkwave, post-punk, and shoegaze, and release records they like without falling prey to trends or hype. That philosophy enables them to establish long-term relationships with signees, evidenced by the fact that most of the artists on the roster have produced multiple releases.

So slowly but surely, Cranes is building a library that forces us to appreciate not only the music contained in the records, but the art that it inspires. The imprint has recruited artists who resonate with the label’s style and aesthetic, reaching far beyond French borders, and Ragnar and Denis’ underlying drive to reimagine what a record should look and feel like deserves recognition.